A couple whose house was "trashed" in the September 4 earthquake had just had the go-ahead to rebuild and had plans for a "bigger and better" home for their family.

But now they have been told the spine of their house is irreparably damaged and that their land may never be suitable to build on again.

Simon and Erin Nicol's home on Prestwick St, Avondale, is in ruins.

Within minutes of the February 22 quake, water, silt and sewage had poured up through every floor in their home.

The brick home moved off its foundations. Deep horizontal cracks line the walls. Their hallway floor has caved in. To inches of silt sit on every floor in every room and it smells putrid. The base of the sun porch has come away from the house.

The house has been red-stickered for the second time - and that's enough for them.

Without power and water and with a house full of muck the couple took their kids Finn, 11, and Mollie, 9, to stay with family in Timaru.

The children are too terrified to return to Christchurch and have already been enrolled in a new school.

"They were 24 and 25 of the new enrolments from Christchurch. We're moving to Timaru. We've already found a rental," said Mr Nicol.

"The kids are too scared to come home. The spine of our house is broken, it's full of silt and sewage and it stinks. Everything is mouldy - our beds, our clothes are already mouldy."

Mr Nicol said the Earthquake Commission had just signed off on a new house for the family when the 6.3 magnitude quake hit.

"We were saving for a bigger and better one. Now we've been red-carded. We have to wait for the next assessment and see what happens with the land, whether the EQC will let anyone build on it or whether we're stuck with it," he said.

"I think it's going to be a long haul this time. We'll probably be sitting here waiting this time next year."

Mrs Nicol said it was devastating leaving everything they had worked so hard for behind.

We've got to start again, basically, with everything. It's heartbreaking," Mrs Nicol said.

"We came back for the first time last week. It was so bad, but now I'm kind of past it. It's not my house any more. I look at it and it's not my home."

Mr Nicol said it was frustrating that all of their furniture had to be left behind.

But he did not want it in the state it was in.

"We're only taking personal belongings. Things that can't be replaced. The rest of it stays. We don't want to be sleeping in beds that stink. Everything is ruined."

"It's just a bloody big mess. It's gutting," said Mr Nicol.

The Nicols are not the first to abandon their homes on Prestwick St.

One neighbour is packing to move to Brisbane, unable to stand the ongoing quakes. Others have fled to Dunedin and Queenstown.

Peter Blackler lives opposite the Nicols and has taken on the role of guardian of the street, watching over his neighbours' empty homes and feeding their cats - when they show up.

"This is probably the worst hit street in Avondale. I've been digging solidly for the last week. I'm amazed at the people that are just leaving and not coming back," he said. "It's sad to see them leaving. I'm staying, though. My house is damaged but livable. A lot of people just don't want to come back. Last time was bad, but this time is worse."

Mr Blackler said one neighbour who had left had told him he ran out to the driveway when the quake hit.

"He saw cracks appear and then the stomach of the ground gurgled and everything came gushing out."